"Geotourism" Survey Shows Millions of Travelers Care

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Good Citizens—18 million, household incomes averaging U.S. $71,000, and well-educated—are civic-minded at home. They recycle, vote, serve on committees, but aren't yet notably activist when traveling, perhaps because they haven't really thought about it.

Self-Indulgents—20 million, almost as well-heeled—travel with an eye to pampering themselves, not the destination. They agree with such statements as "plants and animals exist primarily to be used by people."

Urban Sophisticates—21 million and the wealthiest group, at U.S. $77,000 average household income—are environmentally inclined culture-seekers, traveling to experience everything from London plays to Zulu dances.

Geo-Savvys—16 million—are similar to Urban Sophisticates, but more middle-income and outdoorsy, and very environmentalist. Expect lots of Sierra Club members.

Setting aside the Self-Indulgents, three of the most-traveled groups lean toward geotourism. Their market clout is striking. To get a crude sense of it, I multiplied the average of each group's number of trips by its household income. By that measure, Urban Sophisticates, Geo-Savvys, and Good Citizens could muster half of all travel revenue.

The second phase of the study asked whether respondents would give preference to a travel company that protected natural or historic sites. To make it tougher, the survey added, "even if it cost more"? Despite that loaded phrase—after all, some of us don't think it should cost more—over half of the Urban Sophisticates and Geo-Savvys said "yes," with Good Citizens and Traditionals close behind. Even a fifth of the solipsist Self-Indulgents said "yes."

That's enough to make chambers of commerce think about whether their tourist offerings meet the geotourism standard. For consumers, the implication is clear: You've got power in your wallet. By choosing only up-to-snuff businesses, travelers can send destinations a message: Visitors prefer this; do more of it. Best of all, the restaurants, lodges, and tour operators that most support the character of a place usually provide the richest travel experiences—maybe even rich enough to wake up an Apathetic.

It's an easy choice for us Geo-Savvys or Urban Sophisticates. But here, trapped at my desk, I'm just a Wishful Thinker.

For more on the survey, see www.tia.org/survey.pdf. (Adobe Reader is required to view this file. Download it for free here.) To comment on TravelWatch stories only, please e-mail traveler_tourism@ngs.org.

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